Upon receiving feedback from students, Sodexo has implemented service changes allowing for more diversity in its menu cycle. However, some students are criticizing the lack of enforcement for coronavirus regulations in dining halls.
After students expressed disappointment in the lack of food options, portions and quality, Jim Ruoff, district manager of Sodexo, worked in collaboration with YuHan Bae, senior adviser for the Student Culinary Council (SCC) and a senior majoring in systems science and industrial engineering, along with visitations from Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger, to bring more variety to dining options.
“We have adjusted our menu cycle to include more vegan and vegetarian options as well as to offer a variety of cost-effective menu items,” Ruoff wrote in an email. “In just a few days, we were able to revert to our former style of service at the entrée line, Kosher Korner and Simple Servings stations, allowing students to customize their meals for more flexibility in choices and portions. In the next week, you will see expanded pasta offerings and a salad toss in [College-In-The-Woods Dining Hall].”
The menu cycle was not the only concern among students. Amalia Sulk, a sophomore majoring in environmental science, said she observed students gathering in the Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center (C4). According to Sulk, these students were not abiding by social distancing guidelines.
“Usually, I go to the dining halls in off hours, so it’s not a huge issue for me, but today I went to C4 around 5 p.m., and there was a large crowd,” Sulk said. “They were not observing social distancing in the line to get into the dining hall or in the line to buy food. People were standing on the social distanced dots with friends, and I can understand why that might seem fine, but it increased crowding and made it more difficult to social distance.”
Lack of social distancing has been observed when students wait in line to gather their meals or pay. This has also been observed in seating areas with students rearranging seating in the dining halls. To combat this, flyers have been placed at tables to remind students of the penalties for breaking social distancing measures.
“Your noncompliance with social distancing and face covering mandates will result in the loss of seating in dining locations on campuses,” a flyer on a dining hall table read.
The rules on the flyer state that a student must wear a mask when not eating or drinking, exit the dining room when done with their meal and socially distance. However, Alexa Gutterson, an undeclared freshman, said the rule was not being enforced.
“I feel like it is more of a threat, and I don’t really think they will go through with this,” Gutterson said. “I don’t really think this is being enforced.”
Despite this, Gutterson feels safe eating at dining halls with signs on every table indicating whether the table has been sanitized or not.
“I think that the dining halls are doing a good job at implementing social distancing,” Gutterson said. “I feel really comfortable knowing that I see someone sanitizing my table as soon as I leave my table and I feel like the spacing is adequate. I think they are doing a good job. The only thing is they are not really enforcing the moving of the chairs and everything.”
Maggie McMinn, an undeclared freshman, moved on campus the first day of move-in, Aug. 19. McMinn has observed students violating social distancing guidelines in the dining halls, specifically students staying behind and hanging around after finishing their meals.
“I feel like not everyone does that,” McMinn said. “Some people sit here after they finish eating, but I don’t see anyone kicking people out. I feel like that isn’t really happening.”
Ruoff said students have been cooperative with the displayed signage requesting social distancing in seating areas.
“We are all counting on each other to do things, such as wear masks and social distance in our operations,” Ruoff wrote. “[Binghamton University Dining Services] has asked students to do these things on many occasions to keep us safe and have experienced some strong support.”
According to Ruoff, Sodexo employees are not required to have COVID-19 tests, but do follow general hospitality protocols such as attestations to symptoms, masks, social distancing and requiring that employees are not close to customers for more than 10 minutes.
Kimberly Gonzalez and Jackson Galati contributed reporting to this article.